Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Nino Carbe: 
Behind the Animations

You probably haven’t heard of Nino Carbe, but if you were a kid any time from the 1940s through the 1980s, you have seen his work. Carbe drew backgrounds for many of the great animators — from Walt Disney and Walter Lantz to Hanna Barbera and Filmation — whose productions appeared both on the big screen and on television.

Carbe, who lived in Ridgefield in the 1950s and early 60s, also illustrated many books, especially for children.

A native of Sicily, Nino Carbe was born in 1909 and immigrated with his family when he was three. He was soon exhibiting talent at both art and classical violin, but excelled at the former. At the age of 16, he began studying art at the Cooper Union.

By his early 20s Carbe was illustrating books for New York City publishers, including such classics as Tales of the Arabian Nights, Cyrano de Bergerac and Frankenstein. In 1936, he moved to California and was soon hired by Walt Disney for whom he drew backgrounds of such Disney feature-length classics Fantasia, Bambi, Pinocchio, and Dumbo, as well as many shorter “cartoons.”

During World War II, he worked on Victory through Air Power and other projects for the Army. Disney also lent his talents to Walter Lantz — creator of Woody Woodpecker — who was producing military training films using animation.

After the war Carbe returned to illustrating books for children and also began ranging into such work as designing fabrics and Christmas cards. He and his wife, Betty, moved East to be closer to publishers and in 1953, he bought a house on Ledges Road. 

In 1964, he returned to California and to Disney, working on films such as The Jungle Book. When Walt Disney died in 1966, he joined Walter Lantz, creating the backgrounds for some of the last Woody Woodpecker cartoons, along with TV series like Chilli Willi and The Beary Family.

He then worked for Hanna Barbera as an artist for The All New Superfriends Hour, and Filmation, creating settings for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series on TV. He also designed and drew backgrounds and layouts for Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 The Lord of the Rings animation.

Late in life, Carbe turned to painting, producing many oils, acrylics and watercolors,   experimented in bronze sculpture, and designed batik scarves and even clothing. And on the more practical side, he also built furniture.

Nino Carbe died in 1993. Betty died in 2018; they are buried in her family’s plot in Bonaparte, Iowa.

Nino and Betty Carbe had two daughters. Elizabeth “Liza” Carbe, a writer and journalist in California, maintains a website,, displaying and honoring her father’s work. 

Daughter Victoria “Vicki” Carbe Valentino, an alumna of Veterans Park and Ridgefield High Schools, became an actress who appeared in a dozen movies and on TV. In the 1960s, she was a Playboy Bunny — she was “Miss September” in 1963. She later became a registered nurse. 

More recently, Vicki Carbe  was in the news as one of the dozens of women who publicly accused comedian Bill Cosby of sexual assault.  In 1970 when she was 24, she said, Cosby raped her at his apartment after giving her a pill that rendered her immobile. “We are vindicated, we are validated,” she told USA Today after Cosby was sentenced to prison in 2018.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

John S. Smalley:

An African-American 
Who Fought
— and Died — In the Union Army

Few people today realize that a half dozen African Americans from Ridgefield served in the Civil War — even though, thanks to the 1850 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, they weren’t even considered citizens of the United States. That’s probably because their stories have never been told.

A remarkable example was John Smalley, who was too young to enlist on his own, and who became among the last Union soldiers to die in the service of his country.

Born around 1846 on Ned’s Mountain in Ridgebury, John S. Smalley was only six years old when his father died. His mother passed away two years later, leaving him an orphan. He was probably cared for by his aunt, Betsy Watson, until he got older. 

At some point Frederick Starr became John’s “guardian.”  Starr, who in 1860 was a 28-year-old butcher with a wife and two small children,  lived on Elm Street in Danbury. He later operated a grocery store in that city.

Smalley may have been in training with Starr  to become a butcher. However, when Smalley was only 18 years old and volunteered to join the Union Army, he gave his occupation as “laborer,” a wide-ranging term that could include anything from farming to ditch digging. And he gave his birthplace as Ridgefield and said his residence at that time was Bridgeport.

Since he was not yet an adult, Smalley needed the permission of a parent or guardian to sign up. In an affidavit dated Nov. 27, 1863, Frederick Starr stated: “I hereby give consent to have John S. Smally, my ward, enlist in the service of the United States for the term of three years.”

He was assigned to Company B of the newly created 29th Colored Volunteers — a regiment so called because military units in the Union Army were segregated (even though they’d been integrated in the Continental Army 90 years earlier). 

The men of the 29th were often paid less than their white counterparts and suffered other forms of discrimination. They may even have been cheated out of money due to them for their service. In a history of the 29th Regiment, Sgt. Isaac J. Hill described “the inducements held out to men to join this Regiment” including: “They were to receive a bounty of $310 from the State, $75 from the County from which they enlisted, and $300 from the United States. The $310 from the State we received, the other bounties we did not receive.” Hill was an African-American who served as a regiment orderly, probably because he could read and write. He was also a minister.

The 29th spent a couple of months training in New Haven — today, a monument to the regiment stands in New Haven’s Criscuolo Park where the training took place; it lists on its stones the names of all the members of the regiment. 

The 29th left for Beaufort, S.C., in March 1864. “Never did my ears hear, or my eyes perceive, or my heart feel the strong yearnings of nature as they did at that moment,” Hill wrote. “Mothers weeping for their sons, and wives for their husbands, and sisters for their brothers, and friends for their friends, that were then on their way to the scene of conflict. White and colored ladies and gentlemen grasped me by the hand, with tears streaming down their cheeks, and bid me bye, expressing the hope that we might have a safe return.”

After a brief stint at Beaufort and Hilton Head, which had been taken earlier by Union troops, the regiment was sent to Virginia where it participated in the fighting to take Petersburg and Richmond. Like so many engagements in the Civil War, the battles were fierce and the aftermaths ugly. “When I looked upon the dead and wounded, it was awful to see the piles of legs and arms that the surgeons cut off and threw in heaps on the ground,” Hill wrote.

During this fighting on Oct. 27,  John Smalley was wounded “while on the skirmish line.” His casualty report said he suffered a “severe” spine injury.

Hill did not think much of the medical attention injured Black soldiers were receiving. “Many ... cases could be saved by a little care and attention after the battle, but the complexion and rank of a man has a great bearing,” he said. “There was a great distinction made among the wounded, so much so that it would make the heart of any Christian ache to see men treated so like brutes.”

Despite this, Smalley recuperated and was back in service within a few weeks, though he seems to have been reassigned to less stressful work as a company cook instead of a soldier. 

Members of the 29th were among the first Union troops to enter Richmond after it was abandoned by the Confederacy in 1865. And on April 4 they witnessed a visit by the President. As Abraham Lincoln walked more than a mile from the James River to Jefferson Davis’s former headquarters, many people lined the street cheering. Wrote Hill:

All could see the President, he was so tall. One woman standing in a doorway as he passed along shouted, “Thank you, dear Jesus, for this sight of the great conqueror.” Another one standing by her side clasped her hands and shouted, “Bless the Lamb — Bless the Lamb.” Another one threw her bonnet in the air, screaming with all her might, “Thank you, Master Lincoln.” A white woman came to a window but turned away, as if it were a disgusting sight. A few white women, looking out of an elegant mansion, waved their handkerchiefs. President Lincoln walked in silence, acknowledging the salute of officers and soldiers, and of the citizens, colored and white. It was a man of the people among the people. It was a great deliverer among the delivered. No wonder tears came to his eyes when he looked on the poor colored people who were once slaves, and heard the blessings uttered from thankful hearts and thanksgiving to God and Jesus. The gratitude and admiration amounting almost to worship, with which the colored people of Richmond received the President must have deeply touched his heart.”

Five days later Lee surrendered at Appomattox and 11 days later, Lincoln was dead.

Toward the end of April, the 29th sailed from Richmond for Norfolk via the James River. “We left many kind and weeping friends standing on the wharf bidding us God speed, and wishing us a safe return,” Hill reported.

From Norfolk, the regiment sailed for south Texas, with a stop at New Orleans. The troops arrived at Brazos July 7, part of a 50,000-man force along the Gulf Coast and the Rio Grande dealing both with relations with Mexico and with the beginnings of reconstruction in Texas. Only two months earlier, what some have called the last battle of the Civil War took place outside Brownsville — after the Confederate States had ceased to exist. In the skirmish at Palmito Ranch May 12 and 13, the Confederates overcame a Union Army attack. 

To reach the military base at Brownsville, the 29th’s troops had to march 20 miles inland through mosquito-infested marshes and waters sometimes waist deep. 

“It had not rained in this part of Texas for six weeks, and yet the mud in the roads was in places up to a man’s knees and for miles hub deep,” Hill recalled. “I was astonished to see the many stragglers strewed all along the road.  Many of them died and were buried in the forest, with nothing to look at their graves but the wild beasts of prey.”

Many members of the regiment became sick and wound up hospitalized, including both John Smalley and Isaac Hill. 

It was a nightmare, Hill recalled. “There were seven hundred sick in this hospital, four hundred of that number in the ward with me,” he wrote. “The hospital stewards and nurses were men with no human feeling. The poor sick were dying ten per day and before they were cold the hospital stewards would search them, and take anything valuable that they found about them before they reported them dead. It would be impossible for me to tell the many instances of cruelty perpetrated on the poor sick soldiers by the hands of these colored stewards. They acted more like demons than human beings. The fare was also very bad; we had two pieces of bread and a pint of coffee per day.”

Hill survived. John S. Smalley didn’t — he died of dysentery on Sept. 27 in that “hospital.”

During its war service, the 29th Regiment lost a total of 198 men, including 45 killed or mortally wounded in battle. More than three times the battle casualties  —  153 men — succumbed to disease.

Two days after Smalley died, word was received that the regiment was ordered home to Connecticut, where it was disbanded.


Smalley was buried in a national cemetery on the post at Brownsville. However, in 1909,   more than 1,500 soldiers who were buried at Fort Brownsville were moved to Alexandria National Cemetery in Pineville, La. Thus, John Smalley’s remains lie today in the Deep South, a land whose soldiers he had fought and from which fled slaves that his grandparents, “Uncle Ned and Aunt Betsey” Armstrong, had assisted at their station of the Underground Railroad on Ned’s Mountain in Ridgefield.

Although he was born in Ridgefield, the name of John Smalley is not found on any monument or in any history book in his native town. However, it is engraved in stone in Wooster Cemetery in Danbury. There, a monument dedicated in 2007 honors African Americans from greater Danbury who served in the Civil War. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

John D. Edmonds: 
His Pension Lived On

Too often  people of talent and promise are lost to war. Such was the case with John Edmonds, but it wasn't a Civil War bullet or blast  that ended his military career and may have contributed to his early death. And, amazingly,  his 80-year-old widow was reapplying for pension benefits more than a half century after his death.

 John D. Edmonds was born in Ridgefield in 1832, a son of Robert Chauncey and Abby Darling Edmonds who lived on Silver Hill Road,  a short distance west of Wilton Road West. By 1850, when he was 18, Edmonds was teaching at one of Ridgefield’s one-room schoolhouses. (His father, Robert, was an official of the Flat Rock School district, but the Flat Rock school committee did not employ John.)

He met Harriett Eliza “Hattie” Edmond, a first cousin with a “singular spelling,” and they were married on  Aug. 22, 1853, in Portchester, N.Y., officiated by a Presbyterian minister, according to research by Judith Adams, a descendant of his family. Hattie was 16 and John, 21.  

Hattie was a daughter of Aaron and Harriett Edmond of Ridgefield (some members of the family spelled their name Edmond but most chose Edmonds — and a few appeared as Edmunds). Apparently John, Hattie  and her parents all shared an interest in the West — western New York, that is, an area that had been opening up to farming development after the Revolution. By 1855, John and Hattie, and their baby daughter, Emma, were living near the Finger Lakes, at Benton, N.Y., with her parents and other family members 

But Benton was not west enough. By 1860 John was teaching school in Ada, Mich., just east of Grand Rapids. 

When the Civil War broke out, Edmonds was quick to respond. Despite having a wife and two young children and being 29 years old, he enlisted  in the 2nd Regiment of Michigan Cavalry Volunteers at Grand Rapids in September 1861, signing up to serve three years. 

By January 1862, he was stationed at the Benton Barracks in Saint Louis, Mo., when the
accident that helped doom him occurred. Something spooked the horse he was riding, and it took off, out of control. The horse ran past a shed, from which roof boards were projecting. Edmonds collided with the boards, which hit him in the lower ribs of his right side, and he was thrown from the horse.

The injury was so severe, Edmonds was unable to return to active service and was honorably discharged from the army in May 1862. He returned to his family, who were living in Grand Rapids, and according to medical records, was unable to work more than a few days at a time. 

Since teaching was a rather taxing job, Edmonds apparently decided to take up law as a profession since he could more easily coordinate his workload to his physical disabilities. He began law schooling in Grand Rapids and became a lawyer.

Meanwhile, his brief service made him and his family eligible for an army disability pension that provided money off and on for a half century — long after he had died.. But to obtain veterans disability payments, he and especially his widow, Hattie, went through what must have been tiring application procedures several times over. Just surviving records reveal more than 50 pages of submissions and correspondence,  including testimony from doctors on the nature of his injury, his disability, and his death as well as evidence of his marriage and his children. 

Even a character reference was provided.  Said one physician who backed up his claim,  “Mr. Edmonds is an entirely upright and reliable man of good habits and I know nothing to invalidate his claim.”

Soon after returning to civilian life, John Edmonds began applying for the  pension. In 1863,  Dr. E.R. Ellis examined him and rated him two thirds incapacitated. “Applicant complains of severe pain in his right side over the region of the short ribs ... which at times, especially on exposure or over exercise becomes greatly aggravated,” the physician said.

He received a pension of $5.33⅓  a month ($64 a year) — equivalent of about $112 a month or $1,350 a year today.

However, his health continued to deteriorate. He and probably also his family, by then including two boys and a girl, moved back to Ridgefield, probably to live with his parents. On July 23, 1865, he died of what Ridgefield physician Nehemiah Perry determined to be “consumption” — what we now call tuberculosis. He was only 33 years old and is buried with his parents in the Hurbutt section of the Ridgefield Cemetery on North Salem Road.

Subsequent documentation described the disease as “contracted while in the service.”

After his death Hattie began applying to take over his benefits, and a year or so later, started receiving $8 a month in “widow’s relief,”  an amount increased after another  year to $14 apparently to include support for the three children whose existence had required additional documentation.

However, when she married Charles P. Scott in 1870, Hattie lost her pension. Nonetheless, the children — all still minors — remained eligible, but apparently Hattie had to reapply to keep those modest support payments coming to her new name, Hattie E. Scott. As each child reached 21, the benefit for him or her stopped and by the early 1880s, the family was no longer receiving any military pension payments.

All that later changed many years later. Charles Scott died in 1911, leaving Hattie a widow for the second time. Apparently it was six years before she realized that, as an unmarried widow of a Civil War-disabled soldier, she was once again eligible for John’s pension payment.

In 1917 at the age of 80 and living in Loveland, Colo., Hattie again began a tedious process of applying for a pension, including digging up half-century-old records and testimony. 

She succeeded. The pension was still $8 a month, and despite time and inflation, had changed little in buying power. In 1866, $8 had been worth the modern equivalent of $141. In 1918, it was worth $138.

Hattie Edmonds Scott collected that $8 a month or $96 a year until her death in 1923 at the home of her son, Lynn Edmonds, in Loveland. She was 87 years old. The local newspaper described Hattie as a “pioneer” of Larimer County, Colo, “having come to the county in 1871” and noting that her husband had  “at one time been county clerk.”

Her first husband and Lynn’s father, Civil War veteran John Edmonds, who had died 52 years earlier, was not even mentioned. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Mary Linda Bradley: 
Free-Spirited & Adventurous

Whether it was with four legs or two wings, Mary Linda Bradley liked being out in the open air. The poet and writer loved horses, dogs and flying and became one of the earliest women pilots, owning her own plane.

A descendant of Col. Philip Burr Bradley, a Revolutionary War leader and prominent 18th Century Ridgefielder, Mary Linda Bradley was born in 1886 in Chicago. Her father was William Harrison Bradley, a United States diplomat who brought the family with him on assignments in Italy, England and Canada. His first wife, Mary, was killed in a train crash, and his second wife, Carolina “Carrie” Lawson, decided to name their daughter after William’s first wife.

“Don’t you think it was sporty of my mother to name me after her?” Mary Linda once told a friend. 

Shortly after the turn of 20th Century, the Bradleys moved to Ridgefield, establishing an estate off Peaceable Hill Road called Felsenberg — possibly built on land that William’s great grandfather, Colonel Bradley, had once owned. When World War I broke out, both Mary Linda and her sister Marion became active in community efforts on the home front. Mary Linda founded the local chapter of the National League for Women’s Service, and was its first chairman. The league did projects to support the troops. Both sisters were athletic, organizing and playing on the Katoonah Basket Ball Club, a woman’s team that was captained by Mary Linda and coached by a young Francis D. Martin before the war.

After the war, Bradley built her own house, called Ackworth Cottage, off West Mountain Road, and although she later lived part of the year in Arizona or California, she always considered this her home. (Ackworth was the Yorkshire home of  the Rev. Thomas Bradley   [1597-1673], chaplain to King Charles I, and an ancestor of the Bradleys of Connecticut.)

Educated at private schools in Europe and North America, Mary Linda Bradley began writing while in Ridgefield, especially poetry but also natural history essays. Two books of her poetry were published. One, Reconnaissances, produced in 1937 by William Harrison Press, included a two-act poetic play, “Delusion,” set on an ocean liner and in Manhattan.

Her natural history interests included birds, and she wrote a number of pieces for publications about her observations. One, which appeared in a California periodical in the early 1930s, told of a problem that one bird caused.

“The viborous innocent villain,” she wrote, “was the Red-Naped Sapsucker, who gouged the trunk of the old Acacia by my west window, from dawn to dusk. The sap must have been worth a bird singing commercial, because one hopeful hummingbird took up his orbit around the tree and when the Red Nape withdrew for a ‘breather,’ the hummer rushed to the cracks and holes and satisfied his thirst till Red Nape returned.

“Then, amusingly, the sparrows came to the feast and tried to hover like tiny jeweled helicopters! At this point, I began to be worried about the poor Acacia, which was trying to become a golden tent, but was losing too much sap! So, ruthlessly, we decided to bind its wounds with friction-tape. The free lunch was over!”

She also liked horses. She had a postcard made of a picture of herself in 1926 with a favorite horse named Bird, whom she described on the back as “almost as clever and sassy as she looks.”

Over the years Bradley penned many letters to The Ridgefield Press, few of them of the warm and fuzzy type. In 1960, when town officials were considering a petition to change the name of the road bordering her family’s old estate from Standpipe Road to Peaceable Hill Road, she expressed her opposition and exclaimed, “How titsy-pootsy can one get!”

She also self-published a 188-page autobiography, The Fifth Decade, produced in 1947 by the Arts & Crafts Press of San Diego, probably mostly for family and friends. It was illustrated with black-and-white photos, printed on photographic paper and tipped into the binding, with captions hand-inscribed by Bradley herself. (A copy appeared on eBay in 2004 for $100. The owner called it “a very personal account of a free-spirited, adventurous single woman meeting middle age head-one — and on her own terms. It is also a record of a fledgling female pilot in an era when most American women were confined to roles as housewives and mothers.”

In the book, she describes herself as “the first Ridgefield she-pilot and the third to be licensed in Arizona.” Around 1930, at her part-time residence in Arizona, she had bought an airplane, naming it “Merry Robin.” At first she hired another early female pilot to be her aerial chauffeur, but by 1932  she had earned her private pilot’s license and was flying the Western skies on her own. She traveled extensively, both in her plane and on land, often accompanied by her dog, Arizona Pete. 

Mary Linda Bradley died at Ackworth Cottage in 1966 at the age of 79. She had been in poor health for many years and spent the last two years bed-ridden.

In late September six years earlier Linette Burton, a reporter for The Press, wrote Bradley, asking to do an interview for the newspaper. Bradley declined, saying “I am too full of wheezes to talk” and adding that “I feel my occupations in and enjoyment of life are of no specific interest to my fellow townsmen.” However, explaining that she admired Burton’s writing and was flattered by her offer, she said she would like to get together just to chat. “Please come to see me when the leaves are worth looking at,” she wrote.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Dr. Raymond Mindlin: 

Modest Man Honored by Presidents

It’s not everyone who earns a national award presented by a president of the United States, but Dr. Raymond Mindlin did that and more: He received two awards from two different presidents. 

While his honors came in realms few know about and even fewer understand, the results of his work are everywhere. For instance, the electronic watch on your wrist keeps accurate time because of its high-frequency, quartz crystal oscillator whose operation is based on equations that Mindlin “cooked up” around 1951.

A mathematical theorist and researcher, he was considered a world leader in his field, which he described succinctly in a 1980 interview: “I devise mathematical equations to describe and explain mechanical and electro-mechanical phenomena.”

His work over five decades helped the Allies win World War II, and led to the development of core components in not just electronic watches, but also televisions, radios and cell phones. His work even helped devise packaging materials with the best cushioning abilities.

Raymond David Mindlin was born in New York City in 1906 and earned two bachelor’s degrees and a doctorate at Columbia University, where he taught in the engineering school from 1932 until his retirement in 1975.

During World War II, he left Columbia for three years  to work on naval ordnance at the government’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Silver Spring, Md. There he contributed significantly to the development of the radio proximity fuze, which causes a shell or missile to explode when it is near the target instead of having to hit the target directly, greatly increasing its effectiveness.  The fuze has been called one of the most important technological innovations of World War II, and for his work on it, President Harry S Truman awarded Mindlin the Presidential Medal of Merit in 1946.

Over the years Mindlin researched and taught in such esoteric areas as photoelasticity, fictional contact and granular media,  waves and vibrations in isotropic and anisotropic plates,  wave propagation in rods and cylinders, and crystal lattice theories.

At his retirement in 1975, some 200 people attended a Columbia testimonial dinner at which Professor Jewell M. Garrelts, former associate dean of the Columbia engineering school, called Mindlin “an outstanding scientist whose clear, concise lectures were those of a master.” Garrelts noted that Mindlin was recognized internationally as “a pioneer in extending the mathematical theory of elasticity to bordering areas of electrical, thermal, optical, and acoustical phenomena.” Among the attendees was Mindlin’s first doctoral student, a man who went on to become head of the school of engineering at the University of Illinois. 

Just before his retirement, a book documented his accomplishments.  R.D. Mindlin and Applied Mechanics, published by Pergamon, consists of eight chapters written by eight of his former students describing his major contributions to science.

Over the years he received countless awards, including, in 1980, the National Medal of Science, presented by President Jimmy Carter. The most lasting honor came after his death: The Raymond D. Mindlin Medal is today awarded by the American Society of Civil Engineers for outstanding research contributions in applied solid mechanics.

Dr. Mindlin lived on Deer Hill Drive from 1973 until 1983 when he moved to New Hampshire. He died there in 1987 at the age of 81.

In the 1980 interview with The Ridgefield Press, Mindlin joked about the estimated    100 million electronic quartz crystals that were then being manufactured each year based on his formulas. “Unfortunately, I don’t get any money for it — you can’t patent a mathematical equation,” he said. “If I had a tenth of a cent for each one, I could support the school system of Ridgefield.”

But neither money nor notoriety motivated Mindlin’s research. “I do it for the fun of it,” he told the Press interviewer.

Ray Mindlin was also well-liked. “His professional colleagues treated him with deference at times bordering on awe,” said a fellow professor at the time of his death. “He was secure in the knowledge of his own worth, but wore the mantle of his eminence with genuine modesty. He was generous in giving or sharing credit, and unfailingly courteous to peers seeking his opinion or advice. 

“Basically a shy, reserved person, he was, invariably and unexceptionally, the consummate gentleman.”



Isabel M. O’Shea: 
A Compassionate Principal

The plaque outside the library at Veterans Park School reads: “An innate compassion and deep understanding of human beings, coupled with a keen mind and fine administrative talents, make her an outstanding personality.” 

The plaque honors Isabel M. O’Shea, the first principal of Veterans Park School. The school’s library is named for her; so is the auditorium of East Ridge Middle School, a building she helped to design. 

Isabel Margaret O’Shea was born in Ridgefield in 1905, daughter of a popular chauffeur. After graduating from Ridgefield’s Hamilton High School in 1923, she studied education in normal school and two years later became a teacher at the old Benjamin Franklin Grammar School (which soon became the East Ridge School and then Ridgefield High School). Both she and her sister Elizabeth (Mrs. Harvey Lown) were teachers. Both women, said historian Dick Venus, “were the old-fashioned type of teacher who insisted on getting some knowledge into the heads of even the poorest students.” 

Isabel O’Shea was named principal of the town’s elementary level in 1944, when those grades were housed both at the East Ridge School and at the Garden School on Bailey Avenue.

When Veterans Park opened in 1955, she became its principal, serving till her retirement in 1960. 

Though O’Shea left her job with the schools, she didn’t leave community service. In 1961, she became a member of the building committee that erected Farmingville School and then served on the East Ridge Junior High’s building committee. 

She was chairman of a town study committee on recreation needs, and was active in the District Nursing Association, now the RVNA. In 1960, she was named Rotary Club Citizen of the Year, the first woman so honored. Rotarians noted that O’Shea was chosen for “contributing a great deal to the educational system and devoting to it more hours and actual labor than her duties called for.”

In 1965, the year she died, the Veterans Park library was dedicated to her. When the school was built, the space devoted to the library turned out considerably smaller than what O’Shea had requested. In the years that followed, she pressed administrators to enlarge the library, which was finally accomplished a short time before her death. 

The bronze plaque outside the library notes that “she devoted her life to the community, its people, to her family and to her God,” adding that, through the dedication of the library to her, “It is hoped that her devotion to education will thus be remembered and serve as a constant inspiration to all people who visit this library.”

Both the plaque and an artist’s portrait commissioned by former student Louis Ridolfi would help keep her memory alive, said George Stromberg, her successor as principal of Veterans Park. 

“To forget her and to permit her memory to fade into oblivion would be unthinkable,” Stromberg said. “Her life has touched all of us in one form or another. Future generations should be made aware of her interest in their welfare.”

William S. Hawk: 
A Hotelier and His Nest

William S. Hawk built one of Ridgefield’s grandest estates as well as the world’s tallest hotel. Both are now gone, but in Ridgefield at least, relics remain as a reminder of a man who loved music, helped create an orchestra and, more lastingly, a venue for music to be heard in. With his friend Andrew Carnegie, he helped build and operate Carnegie Hall.

William Samuel Hawk was born in Ohio in 1859 and, after leaving a prep school in Massachusetts, went to work for his uncle,  who owned the St. Nicholas Hotel in New York City. He joined the management of the Windsor Hotel in the late 1800s.

In 1899 he built and operated the Hotel Manhattan, then the tallest hotel in the world and among the premiere hotels in the city — it provided accommodations for both Presidents Theodore Roosevent and William McKinley. (The hotel, near Grand Central Terminal, was razed in 1961 to make way for an office building.)

Hawk became friends with President McKinley and was in Buffalo with the president the day he was assassinated in 1901.

In the 1890s, Hawk and his wife Edith decided they wanted a house in the country and acquired 14 acres between Branchville and Rockwell Roads to build “Hawk’s Nest,” a spreading, many-angled mansion on a hilltop. 

A 1914 advertisement for the estate described the 28-room house as “large and roomy, built on a hill affording views of the sound and the peaks of the Berkshires, containing eight master’s rooms, three master’s baths, twelve open fireplaces, seven servants’ rooms, and two baths, large living room, dining room, drawing room, library, billiard room, den, lavatory, butler’s pantry, kitchen, also servants’ dining room, kitchen, pantry, laundry, hot water heating and gas for light, two furnaces, etc. The cellar makes an immense store room, and is floored with cement.” There was also a carriage house that included six stalls, spaces for both carriages and automobiles, and a small kennel.

The Hawks had been fairly active participants in the community, supporting the improvement of schools and the library. Edith Hawk was a supporter of the town’s first kindergarten and both she and her husband contributed the money to build the sidewalks around the new Ridgefield Library at the turn of the century.

The 1914 advertisement was placed because the Hawks apparently wanted to focus on their life in Manhattan. William retired two years later. The estate did not fare well and had been vacant a couple of years when it caught fire in October 1921 and burned to the ground. The spectacular daytime blaze could be seen for miles around and was viewed with excitement by hundreds of Ridgefield students at the nearby Benjamin Franklin Grammar School and Hamilton High School.

Today, stone walls and some parts of at least one modern house remain as reminders of Hawk’s Nest. So does the carriage house which years ago was converted into a residence called the Coach House at 80 Branchville Road. Over the years the Coach House has been home to a number of celebrities in the arts, including dancer Marthe Krueger (1942-1951), tap dancer Paul Draper (1949-50), Chinese art collector Abel Bahr (1951-59), and Broadway singer and actor Don McKay.

That would have probably pleased William Hawk, who was closely associated with the music circles in New York City. With industrialist Andrew Carnegie in 1891, he helped build Carnegie Hall as a venue for the New York Symphony Orchestra, of which Hawk had been a founder in 1878. (The symphony eventually merged with its longtime rival, the older New York Philharmonic.) 

At a luncheon he hosted in 1901 at his hotel for the visiting Pittsburgh Orchestra, its director Victor Herbert, and chief benefactor Andrew Carnegie, Hawk recalled one of his first meetings with Carnegie. “I expected to find him steeped in business, for it was a time of keen business tension,” he said. “Instead I found him at his home discussing paleontology with one man and with another the selection of a good oboe for an orchestra.”

Saturday, September 19, 2020


Irad Hawley: 
His Name and Face Live On

A son of a Ridgefield deacon and great grandson of the town’s first minister, Irad Hawley made a fortune in food, coal and railroads, but he left his mark on the world in two rather different ways: The home of one of America’s leading art centers, and the name of a small Pennsylvania town.

And you can see his face, hanging on the wall, whenever you visit the Ridgefield Library — or the Salmagundi Club.

Born in Ridgefield in 1793, Irad Hawley was a great grandson of the Rev. Thomas Hauley, the first minister and the first school teacher in the town. The minister’s home  at the north corner of Main Street and Branchville Road is the oldest house in Ridgefield and is where Irad was born. It remained in the Hawley family for more than two centuries.

His father, Deacon Elisha Hawley,  was a leader in the First Congregational Church. His mother, Charity Hawley was active in the community, so much so that when he was preparing his autobiography, Recollections of A Lifetime, in the 1850s, Samuel G. Goodrich (“Peter Parley”)  interviewed her to refresh his memory about the town during his childhood (and he included a long profile of the Deacon in his book). She died in 1860, five months short of her 100th birthday.

 In 1807 when he was only 14 years old, Irad moved to New York to begin a career in retailing. He took a break to join the New York Militia’s 11th Regiment, serving in the War of 1812 as a private. He remained a reserve member of the militia until his death, by which time he’d reached the rank of major.

After the war he established a grocery firm called Holmes, Hawley & Company, which grew into “a prosperous house in the West India trade for more than 25 years,” said the New York Observer, a 19th Century newspaper. He married his partner’s daughter, Sarah Holmes, in 1819.

But his interests — and income — soon expanded. He helped organize the Pennsylvania Coal Company, and served as its first president. Many of that company’s operations were in Poconos.  There, Irad established the town of Hawley in 1827 at the important junction of a coal-carrying “gravity railroad” and the Delaware & Hudson Canal, which transported the anthracite from there to the Hudson River and on to New York City.

Not surprisingly, Hawley became a director Delaware & Hudson Canal Company.

However, he also invested heavily in the “new technology” of railroads, becoming a director of the Boston & Providence and the Chicago & Rock Island Railroads.

By 1841, he could retire from Holmes & Hawley with what one historian called “an ample fortune.”

The canal, railroads, coal company, and his own business have come and gone, but Hawley’s next big project proved quite lasting, and still stands today.

“In 1852 construction was begun on Hawley's imposing brownstone-fronted house at No. 47 Fifth Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets,” reports Manhattan historian Tom Miller.  “At nearly 40-feet wide, it engulfed two building plots.  Completed the following year, the house was an aristocratic expression of the Italianate style. Inside, the mansion was the epitome of current domestic fashion.  Elegant carved mantels adorned the main rooms, and the dining room was decorated in the Gothic Revival style.”

It is today a New York City Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Hawley became interested in education.  He was a director of the Rutgers Female Institute, the first New York City college for women, and in 1858 headed a group of citizens “in opposition to the expulsion of the Bible from our Public Schools” — not surprising for the son of a deacon and great grandson of a preacher.

By the early 1860s, Hawley was having health problems. In 1862, he sailed to Europe to try to regain his health. (His 1862 passport application, in the days before passports had

pictures, provided an interesting description of the 69-year-old Hawley’s appearance: “Stature, 5 feet 7½ inches; Forehead, high; Eyes, grayish blue; Nose, Roman; Mouth, small; Chin, round; Hair, white; Complexion, florid; Face, oval.”)

 Hawley wound up staying in Italy where, in 1865, he contracted typhoid fever and died in Rome. He left an estate valued at $500,000 — equal to about $8.5 million today — to his wife, Sarah, and five surviving children.

Some of that was real estate in Ridgefield and his sons, detecting the likelihood that the town would become more attractive to city dwellers once the railroad arrived in 1870, invested rather heavily in more village land — eventually owning most of what became the Lounsbury estate and Veterans Park as well as considerable acreage on lower High Ridge.

However, one son — Elisha Judson Hawley — proved a disaster for the family. Judson, as he was called, was caught in 1871, stealing more than $237,000 ($4.8 million) from family investments to cover personal business interests. The result was years of financial stress, battling among family members and even a  lawsuit as the Hawleys struggled to make up for the losses.  The New York Sun reported that the widow Sarah Hawley had “agreed to take a much less income than she was entitled to so as to help make up the deficit.” 

Judson Hawley was never arrested or prosecuted. He died in 1915 in England, leaving an estate valued at only $200,000 in today’s dollars — less than a 20th of what he had stolen years earlier, reports Ridgefield village historian David Daubenspeck.

Irad’s estate wasn’t finally settled until 1919 when the last Ridgefield property — the Hauley Homestead where he was born — was sold.

Sarah remained in the Fifth Avenue mansion with two of her grown sons, Daniel Edwin and Elisha Judson, along with Judson’s wife, Anna. After Sarah died in 1891, the house was sold at auction to a Pittsburgh steel magnate.

That family sold it in 1917 to the Salmagundi Club, which describes itself as “a center for American art since 1871.” Its members have included   William Merritt Chase,  Frederick Stuart Church,   Charles Dana Gibson,   William Hart, Childe Hassam,   Howard Pyle,  Norman Rockwell,  Augustus Saint-Gaudens,  Louis Comfort Tiffany,  J. Alden Weir,   Stanford White,  and N.C. Wyeth.

Today, portraits of both Ira and Mary are displayed in those hallowed Salmagundi chambers the couple once called home. 

Duplicates hang in the Ruggles Fine Arts Reading Room of the Ridgefield Library.

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